It's been a while since I posted an update, but now's as good a time as any to give the rundown of our Bay Area trek, which included high-volume beer enjoyment and equally high-volume hanging out with friends & people we didn't previously know.
The weekend started with a trip to, of all places, a German wine bar/coffee house. The shop's owner had an open bottle of wine he wanted to get rid of, and we were more than happy to help him out; we also desperately needed caffeine to get over our 4 a.m. wakeup (or, rather, my wife did, since I'm now apparently used to getting up before 5).
Making our way down the street to sushi, we met up with some old friends and had that most Japanese of sushi accompaniments: sake. For most people, sake is a kind of mysterious liquid, a clear concoction with less character than her European wine brethren but far more character than her European clear beverage kin. I've been intrigued by the stuff since going to Japan, where the sake flowed like wine and Kirin Ichiban flowed like water. (I think all the water was seawater.)
In what must have been the most interesting business plan ever assembled, a combination sake bar/hair stylist opened in Ithaca shortly after I left the place. When my wife and I returned, we tried the sake; we did not try the styling.
What's most intriguing about sake, though, is the way it's made. Rice is infected with a fungus, which breaks down the starches into yeast-digestible form, and the entire wad is then subjected to yeast. This two-step fermentation process seems pretty unique in that it requires two different organisms. It's the lichen of alcohol. (Not to be confused with lichen schnapps, which is just a terrible thing.)
Regardless, our sake that afternoon was not of the finest vintage. We moved on to the evening's festivities, where I finally tucked into my first local beer, a San Jose Hermitage Ryetopia. I have a thing for rye beers -- the added spice of rye gives a little tingle to many otherwise placid brews -- and this was a good example of a rye pale, enough to get me ready for a night of drinking.
The sun dipped, more friends arrived, and we found ourselves at "OG", a nice little joint with a very large selection (in two rooms -- if you go, be sure to check out the back room) of locals. I went first to Drake's 1500 and pulled down a Stone specialty double IPA, a 10+% affair that pretty much killed my wife's ideas of staying up.
Starting with Round 2, the memory becomes fuzzy. I stuck local with a hefty amber ale -- also from a San Leandro brewery -- then went with my brother to get a local stout whose name and flavor both escape me. My last drink of the evening was another San Jose brew, but at that point I was probably best not having it.
Day 2 was about to be a local wine day, but a trip to the airport nixed that plan. Adhering to the 8 hours rule, I didn't drink in the morning, and by the time night came, there was nothing local to be had. We went out to Ricksbar for some mixed drinks, chatted long with a couple Aussies on holiday, then headed straight back to the hotel to pass out.
At the wedding, the beer selection was Drake's 1500, Drake's dry stout, the Berkeley staple Trumer Pils, and Dogfish Head 90 Minute. Obviously, I avoided DFH: what worse way to travel across the country than to drink what you can pick up not just at the store but at a brewpub 2 miles away?
To be honest, I was most excited about the Trumer Pils. Trumer doesn't make much, they don't export, and their brew is known far and wide as a very good example of a pilsner style. It lived up to the hype, too. The flavor is mild, a little grassy and herbal, but not something that will wreck the tastebuds.
Drake's presented a pair of interesting alternatives. The 1500 is a sort of low-alcohol West Coast IPA, with a decent amount of dryness to go with an apparent hop nose. To their credit, though, the people at Drake's didn't allow that smell to overwhelm, which made this far more drinkable than many of those from San Diego. Hop flavor is also not intense, but it's tropical enough to keep the taste on the tongue. If it were available here, I'd buy it regularly.
The stout was similarly well-managed. It's easy to try to make a stout feel robust, and it's easy to go straight for the color, but Drake's seems to have managed that line well, presenting a mildly chocolately, very dark brew with the classic beige head and an assertive but not aggressive roast followed by a dry finish.
I couldn't leave town without slamming through one more pint that evening, in spite of a desire to just fall into bed. Alas, my desire to sleep overwhelmed my normal cataloging of what goes down the gullet.
As much as people talk about West Coast vs East Coast as some sort of stylistic thing, the real differences were in volume of breweries in the Bay Area. OG had at least a dozen local breweries on their board and probably rotates through a dozen more -- their list updates live as kegs are tapped -- without stressing the variety available to them. Here in the DC area, there are maybe a dozen breweries total that are worth keeping on tap; more are coming online every year, but we certainly don't have the variety of styles or overall quality that California consumers expect these days. That's not to say there aren't great breweries out here, rather that it's easier to start a brewery on the East Coast and have it be a modest success despite putting out relatively unrefined beers.
Happily, we're on our way.
Mash out. Spin on.
I love making beer. I love drinking good beer. I love enjoying beer with other people.
Oktoberfest is the trifecta, allowing me to experiment with an Oktoberfestbier, drink that and other local brews, and throw a very large party for no reason other than Octobericity. (So that's a word now.)
This time of year really appeals to me. The weather generally makes me feel like I'm back in the Northwest rather than south of the Mason-Dixon line. The start of leaves changing colors and the shortening days make me feel like we've finally left summer bugs and lawn mowing behind.
As with the last two years, it's also an excuse to have an Oktoberfest party. Each year the flavor changes slightly, depending on weather, attendees, quality of beer, and the state of our house, but every year has been entertaining enough to make a repeat inevitable.
In 2012, we started planning our first Oktoberfest about a month early. I had a couple homebrews to get through, but I had yet to expand the volume to 15+ gallons at a time. The general plan was to do a tasting, where attendees could sample from any of something like 5 or 6 craft beers, as well as drink through my remaining stores from the year. At the time, my youngest daughter was just 7 months old, and our oldest was barely over 3.
We planned on the moonbounce, but the weather didn't cooperate. At all. Instead, I had to buy the biggest tarp sold at Home Depot along with some high-quality rope and string up a makeshift cover for our deck between our oak tree and some closets on our top floor. That was the only way to get all those people comfortably in our space, but it also meant occasionally clearing the pooled water. In spite of the horrible weather, the crowd was large -- and felt larger due to the confinement -- and we had a great time.
Fast forward a year, and with a slightly earlier start date, we held that party during a warm weekend in late-September. Rain didn't hit, I served the variety of homebrew from the basement (still no Oktoberfest!), and the crowd seemed far more fluid, ebbing and flowing as the evening went on to provide about 6 hours of uninterrupted partydom.
This year, we got the house kitted out with a large screened porch, so rain was never going to be a problem. (The tarp may have wept, but it was in the shed, so I could ignore it.) We were lucky enough to have a cold front move through the day before the party, which pushed daytime temps down to a comfy mid-60s and overnight temperatures into the upper 40s.
Something like 30 adults and about half that many children rolled through the house over 5 or so hours. Excellent population variety and great conversation made it an event that hopefully everyone else enjoyed as much as I did.
As a first this year, I also made a specific Oktoberfest. We started the night with 3 cases of that on the deck, plus 3 or 4 commercial cases in case things got out of hand.
I'm often pleased with the beers that I brew, but this one came out dead on, everything I wanted it to be. Its only negative? Slight overcarbonation. But I'll take that with a spectacular Oktoberfestbier any day. And in spite of going through 2.5 cases of beer total, we were still left with a case and a half of the Oktoberfestbier left over.
I can hardly wait for next year's. For now, I'll have to take solace in our copious amounts of leftover beer.
Mash out. Spin on.
Our children are not our private labor force. But I've filled enough bottles in my time that when my daughter says, "I want to help!" -- well, it's hard to say no to an offer like that.
So on a pleasant fall day, surrounded by unlabeled bottles donated by Port City Brewing Company for the cause, I found myself supervising an eager kindergartener as she precisely filled bottle after bottle. Three cases later, the only thing she hadn't done was cap (finished with decently well-printed caps from GrogTag).
It's a fascinating experience to realize that your child has gone from a squirmy baby just trying to survive between 4-ounce feedings to a functional person who can actually help with your hobbies. While my daughter was filling beers and spilling less than most adults do in the process, I cleaned up. The capping day was done in 40 minutes.
This isn't the first time she's shown interest in the craft, of course, and it probably won't be the last. Indeed, for this batch, she and her friend were responsible for crushing several pounds of grain using the old-style crank method. She regularly stirs near-boiling wort to keep it from scorching. And she's a fan of dry hopping -- though she did not appreciate the first-hand experience of tasting those bitter little flowers.
I feel like I'm watching the limbs of a homebrew tree expand to form a canopy: with each new task she becomes capable of accomplishing, she relishes the chance to spread new branches and shade more ground. Maybe it's to spend time with me, maybe it's just because she's fascinated (I'm hoping, of course, that it's the latter) -- regardless, I welcome her involvement. And if my oldest is involved, that means the youngest won't be far behind.
(Oh wait, there she is.)
Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, though. This is a girl who eats Grape Nuts because they smell like beer. She knows the scent of barley better than the smell of, say, oats. When I pulled the lid off the brew, she said, "That smells good." Then, as if realizing the notion of beer smelling good implied something else, she hastily added, But I don't get to taste it, do I?" (I dodged the question; she didn't get a taste.)
But I might be a little too pleased with this turn of events. After all, there's no telling what she'll do on bottling days 3, 7, or 17 years from now. Maybe I'll find that this tree has been cut down because it's in a parking lot. Or maybe I'll wake up one morning to a beautifully bready scent wafting through the house and realize that she hasn't been helping me lately, I've been helping her.
Mash out. Spin on.
Last year, Magic Hat sued West Sixth Brewing in federal court over a logo that bore a very mild resemblance to the Magic Hat #9 logo (inverted) and made use of the navigational compass star design that Magic Hat construed as a variation on what it calls its "dingbat" visible on the neck label between the words "Magic" and "Hat".
Ultimately, the suit was settled by West Sixth changing its logo to remove the dingbat and enlarge the name of the brewery and location.
I'm torn on these kinds of David/Goliath lawsuits. In times dominated by social media, the major manufacturer certainly loses face doing something like this -- it looks like bullying, even if it's just trademark enforcement -- while the smaller business can use the very platform of a lawsuit to gain market. This is in contrast to lawsuits between two smaller companies, where winning in court might be a life-or-death issue, or between giants, where winning court is worth millions or tens of millions of dollars. Rather, a win by the larger party in these disputes seems to be strictly legal, with few redeeming features.
Trademark law is a vast and complicated web, though, and protecting one's mark is important in establishing that a business cares about that mark. Not protecting in marginal cases makes it open to incursion in less marginal cases. Given that a brewery like Magic Hat has made a national name and is defending brew sales that are, as they say, nothing to sneeze at, these kinds of lawsuits have to be looked at in an extended context. They clearly have to defend when Maze Brewing Company comes out with a maze logo that is identical to #9 but replaces "#9" but "MB". Or Magic Wand Brewery tweaks the font from the Magic Hat corporate logo, replaces the word "Hat" with "Wand", and puts a wand in place of the dingbat. These are no longer marginal: they're clear trademark violations.
Where I think some of the majors fail is in dialing up a lawsuit. In this instance, West Sixth offered a variety of alternatives prior to the lawsuit being filed, in response to a cease-and-desist letter; Magic Hat moved forward anyway, in a move that anyone with modest social media experience would consider daft.
There have been a lot of disputes like this lately as the number of small breweries in the United States explodes. Most of them are resolved amicably and quietly, without official lawsuits being filed but with plenty of legal letters whizzing back and forth. And most don't make the news because events like Stone Brewing Co. (distributed nationally) getting a name change out of Colorado's Kettle and Stone Brewing (now Vindication Brewing) make sense immediately. Plus companies like Stone know that perception matters: they offered several solutions that were vastly different, all of which were reasonable and would protect the Stone trademark.
Unfortunately the scope of some of these disputes is difficult to defend. For instance, Long Trail's lawsuit against Bent Paddle over hiker silhouettes (Long Trail's is at right, Bent Paddle's is below), while potentially with merit, seems to be a lower-level rehash of Magic Hat vs West Sixth -- admittedly looking more like Goliath's smaller cousin against Vontae Davis: the suit looks to have a certain amount of base mean-spiritedness and only marginal merit. It also seems like something that could have been resolved without a lawsuit that just makes Long Trail seem petty.
What the burgeoning craft beer industry seems to need are two critical things:
1. An organization that tracks trademarks to keep upstart companies from taking on names and logos that are infringements on existing marks.
2. A consulting group that has some trademark law experience but also understands social media.
I appreciate the variety of beers available these days, and the marketplace can clearly accommodate more. I would hate to see that variety squelched by larger companies turning into elder polar bears roaming about and eating all the young. We want more Collaboration Not Litigation and Black Cascade. The beer world is big enough.
Our annual Oktoberfest gathering is on! And it's always made better by that sweet scent of a freshly produced beer. Looks like about 14 gallons in the secondaries, so that'll be around 13 gallons by the time it gets bottled.
This year, I rushed to brew an Oktoberfest. But I was slow about the rushing due to some brewery improvement projects, so the desired 60 days of lagering is actually going to be about 30 before the first batch comes out. That pushes it to Märzen territory.
Normally I would just declare it an Oktoberfestbier and let it sit for another month, but a neighbor has requested a birthday brew. That leaves me with only one viable option: bottle half, continue to lager the other half. One good thing about brewing in quantity is that you can do good by your neighbors and still have leftovers.
This recipe ended up with a good malt front and a pleasantly floral bitterness; presumably by the time the six or so Oktoberfestbier gallons make it through the lager, that will have waned into something more subtle. The Märzen may just be a bit hoppier than normal, but that's a tolerable situation.
Mash volume: 10 gal
Boil volume: 19 gal
Mash temp: 128F -> 148F -> 154F
Fermentation temp: 50F
19 lbs Pilsener
7.5 lbs Munich Light
6.75 lbs Munich Dark
1.12 oz Crystal 120L
1.12 oz CaraPils
1 oz Hallertau fwh
1 oz Hallertau 60m
2 oz NZ Pacifica 60m
2.25 oz Tettnanger 5m
0.75 oz Tettnanger 0m
Wyeast Oktoberfest blend
Ferment @49-50F, 3 weeks
Diacetyl rest @58F, 2 days
Lager @38-40F, 30-90 days
Ale Pail Man approves, though he was subsequently drained of all character.
Mash out. Spin on.